The money has rushed in at a rate of more than $660,000 a day, and on Friday, a group led by Caesars Entertainment reported ponying up an additional $1.2 million for the pro-expansion cause.
Among proponents, the biggest spender has been MGM Resorts, the gambling behemoth that owns several casinos on the Las Vegas strip and is angling to build a new casino in Prince George’s County. So far it has spent $8.4 million.
There is only one funding source so far on the other side, but it is also a huge gambling company willing to lay down millions. Penn National Gaming — whose casino in Charles Town, W.Va., stands to lose from an expansion in Maryland — has kicked in $9.5 million to the effort to defeat the ballot question, which would also allow table games at Maryland’s five previously authorized slots sites.
The casino that MGM wants to build at National Harbor, the mini-city on the Potomac River, would literally transform the region’s landscape, becoming one of the first landmarks motorists see as they cross the Woodrow Wilson Bridge into Maryland.
It also has the potential to be one of the most lucrative on the East Coast, drawing residents from the District and Virginia, where casino-style gambling remains illegal, as well as tourists and other visitors to the Washington area from around the globe.
The developer of National Harbor and the owners of a planned casino in Baltimore have also made smaller contributions to the pro-expansion campaign.
Penn has two properties in Maryland that arguably could benefit from the plan: a slots venue in Cecil County, which could draw more patrons with table games; and a racetrack in Prince George’s, where Penn could bid to build a full-fledged casino.
But most analysts say it is more important for Penn to protect the larger casino it operates in Charles Town, which has been a favorite of Maryland gamblers, particularly those from Montgomery County. That facility stands to take another hit if another large-scale Maryland casino opens about 70 miles away at National Harbor in 2016, as projected.
What’s unfolding in Maryland “is very much like a high-stakes poker game,” similar to what has played out in several other states when lucrative casino licenses are at stake, said William Eadington, an economist at the University of Nevada at Reno.
“There’s always a gamble you’re not going to prevail,” he said. “But if you can spend $30 million to $40 million to win or protect something worth hundreds of millions, it’s not a bad bet.”